November 7 2013

Free press?

Earlier this week I posted a comment about a recently issued PCC press release singing the praises of the commercial property grant scheme in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. (Bonfire of the vanities)
Grumpette spotted this on the council's website last Thursday and I immediately fired off an email to Cabinet member Cllr David Pugh pointing out that, by highlighting No. 31 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock, he was cherry picking the evidence for propaganda purposes.
I went on to make some observations about other projects in Dimond Street that didn't present such a rosy picture .
Last Friday morning, I forwarded a copy of my email to the Western Telegraph and Pembrokeshire Herald.
Imagine my complete lack of surprise when the WT published the press release in its entirety with not a word about my criticisms.
To make matters worse, the newspaper that fights for Pembrokeshire had the cheek to put one of its reporter's by-lines at the top of the piece, even though the article, including the photograph, had been provided, camera-ready, by the council's taxpayer-funded press office.
So much for balanced reporting!
We are all familiar with state control of the press as practised in China, or the former Soviet Union, but self-censorship is less easy to detect.
If we know that the state is dictating what the newspapers publish, we can take the information with a pinch of salt.
With self-censorship, we do not enjoy that degree of transparency.
So, in some ways, self-censorship is more dangerous than state control.
It is a bit like comparing the crimes of robbery and corruption.
While being robbed is an unpleasant experience for the victim, it usually reported to the police who will make every effort to catch the culprit, while the whole point about corruption is that, if they are careful, nobody except the participants will ever get to know about it.

Boy zone

Boy Wonder over on that other website is having one of his better weeks.
So far he's had two good scoops, which is brilliant by his standards.
He kicked off with a pamphlet; issued by the council to 9 and 10-year olds in the county's primary schools, explaining the role of county councillors.
Featuring a councillor called Cllr Griff ( thought to be an allusion to Three Billy Goats Gruff) who is young, and bespectacled, with curly hair and a manic expression.
There is some attempt on that other website to suggest this character is based on a north county member with condimental connections, but it doesn't take too much imagination to see who the artist really had in mind.
Physician heal thyself!
The booklet itself is no more impressive than the central character, though the youngsters are helpfully informed that Pembrokeshire enjoys the lowest council tax in Wales.
Nothing like catching them young, though I would have thought the average ten-year-old has better things to do than poring over the council tax calculations.
Mind you, it could be that the ten-year-olds that I encounter are untypical and, while they are playing video games on the computers, their school friends are on the internet trying to negotiate the best tariff from their parents' electricity supplier.
I am told that even members of the IPPG are asking questions about the cost of this booklet in these times of austerity.
So things must be serious.
Junior had a second bite at the cherry when an "elderly reader" pointed out a flaw in the booklet's code breaking exercise which had the same symbol for F and H.
Some mystery surrounds the identity of this eagle-eyed oldie, but one theory is that it is a member of the IPPG.
It is rumoured that the IPPG's election coordinator Cllr Rob Lewis decided to test out the code by sending an email to all the party's members reminding them that "nobody ever tells you how to vote" and that they should always listen to their conscience.
It ended with the coded message ------ ---- -----.
It was only when one of them deciphered it and came up with HOLLOW YOUR FEART that it was realised that there was something seriously amiss with the code.
I should emphasise this is just a rumour and, for all I know, this has been made up by some mischievous person who takes a perverse delight in making fun of his betters.
The young pretender ended the week on a real high when he revealed that three of the council's unaffiliated members had decided to form a group - the Pembrokeshire Alliance.
This has been a long time in the gestation (The grapevine) - 20 months in fact, which is longer than an elephant.
Old Grumpy hopes it doesn't turn out to be a case of "The mountain laboured mightily and brought forth a ridiculous mouse".
Kilmister, Nutting and Stock may sound like a dodgy firm of solicitors, but it is on the shoulders of these three political titans that our hopes now rest.
I'm sure we all look forward to reading their manifesto.
In the meantime, I can report that, according to my calculations, this group will now be entitled to a seat on the National Park (£3,000) and a half share with the Tories in a scrutiny committee chairmanship (circa £9,000).
Not that I even suspect that they will have been motivated by filthy lucre.
I am reminded of the story of the father who burst into the parlour and found his daughter on the settee with her boyfriend's hand on her thigh.
"What's going on here?" the father demanded to know
Don't worry Daddy", the daughter replied, "I can assure you his mind is on higher things."
P.S. Just to show there's no hard feelings, Jacob has emailed to say that he has ben doing some code breaking of his own. His advice: eat sensibly to maintain a fealthy feart

Night on the tiles

I understand that last Thursday's posting has caused some frantic head-scratching in the corridors of the Kremlin on Cleddau (How green is my chimney?) (Theory . . . and practice)
It seems that, confronted with the photographic evidence, the Cabinet's official line: that my articles about the grant situation in Pembroke Dock are merely the ramblings of a confused old man, is undergoing a rethink.
Mind you, I could have told them that facts are always superior to uninformed opinions.
No doubt, serious efforts are underway to think up some reason, however spurious, why I am wrong.
So, in an attempt to stay ahead of the game, let me take you on a more extensive tour of the roof at Coronation School.

According to the final account for this project £46,924 was paid to the builder for "slate, felt, and batten".
As far as I know, no one has yet mastered the art of felt and battening a roof with the slates in situ, so, as someone remarked: they were very clever to match up all those patches of lichen when they put the slates back on.
However, there is other evidence that these slates have not been disturbed.
Take a look at that new rooflight and ask yourself whether any self-respecting builder would leave the flashings showing down the right hand side, if he was reslating the roof.
Then there is the £3,645 included in the final account for "ridge tiles".
Even unlikely theories about lichen-jigsaws won't cut the mustard here because the pointing between the tiles is nearly as old as me.
Further proof that these ridges are as original can be seen at top left where a couple can be seen sticking untidily in the air.
And, so far as I'm aware, there's no way of reslating a roof without first taking off the ridges.
The final account also includes a sum in excess of £7,000 for guttering and downpipes.
I must say that it has always seemed to me that the rainwater goods, as seen today, bear a remarkable similarity to what is shown on the photographs that accompanied the planning application.
The crude historic repair which can be seen bottom right would seem to support this theory.
And, if the rainwater goods haven't been replaced, what price the fascia boards to which they are fixed?
Well, seeing as you ask, almost £10,000 is included in the final account for fascias and bargeboards.
As they say, every picture tells a story and I've got several more shots in my locker.
I understand the council's internal auditors are busy producing a report on the issues I have raised with regard to these grants.
Should make an interesting read.
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